Vol.XVII No.III Pg.3
May 1980

Fundamentals Of Following

Dan S. Shipley

"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt. 16:24)

What a profound statement! In one short sentence Jesus sums up the essence of discipleship. Here is the heart of the matter: the decision, the duty, the denial and the direction — all of which are fundamental in following Christ. To begin with, note the conditional aspects of this following. "If" one follows Christ it is necessary that he do certain things (the doing of which in no way implies any merited or earned favor). "If" also implies the necessity of making a choice. One may or may not decide to follow Christ, but decide he must. The term "would" (thelo) indicates volition, an exercise of the will. Many would-be disciples have simply not made up their minds to be wholehearted followers of the Lord. Not that they have not changed a few externals; not that they have not decided to be religious or to "join the church" — they have just not settled the matter as to whether Christ will be Lord of their lives. That is the real decision and making that one also settles hundreds of little "side" issues so bothersome to so many. No man can be a faithful follower until this first "if" is decided, and even then, it is just the beginning.

Accordingly, deciding "yes" about following Christ means deciding "no" about serving self — "let him deny himself" Jesus says. This includes, but is not limited to, putting away things. It means developing proper attitudes toward self; learning that ...ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:19,20). Here is the real battleground of the soul; self must be conquered and controlled if Christ is to be followed (Rom. 7:22,23; 1 Cor. 9:25-27).

Then every follower must "take up his cross" — this involves every duty and responsibility in connection with serving the Lord. As the term "cross of Christ" is sometimes used in a general way to show all that Christ has done for sinful man (1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 6:12), taking up our cross includes all that we do for the Lord. And, as indicated in Lk. 14:27, each must bear his "own cross". There can be no representative involvement. As Christ's cross was peculiarly His and none other could have done what He did, so it is with ours. You must bear your cross, you must do the will of the Father as Jesus did (Jn. 17:4). (It is neither legalistic nor anti-grace to teach that men MUST do something to please God — in fact it is unscriptural and anti-scriptural to teach otherwise!) Without this personal cross-bearing Jesus says, you "cannot be my disciple". (Lk. 14:26).

Finally, following Christ involves the matter of direction, as is clearly suggested in "come after me" and "follow me". Remember, the initial decision was WHETHER to follow Christ, not HOW. To do as self pleases and call it following the Lord violates every fundamental Jesus deals with in this proclamation. To follow is to live by His word (Matt. 4:4); to do ALL in His name (Col. 3:17); to abide in His doctrine (2 Jn. 9). "Where He leads me..." Will you?